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Vitruvian Man, Proportion Study after Vitruvius by Leonardo da Vinci (1492)

Renaissance (borrowed from Frenchrenaissance "rebirth") is the name given to the European cultural epoch during the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was characterised by efforts to revive the cultural achievements of Greek and Roman antiquity. Starting in the cities of northern Italy, the artists and scholars of the Renaissance with their innovative painting, architecture, sculpture, literature and philosophy also influenced the countries north of the Alps, albeit in different ways in each case. The term "Renaissance" was only coined in the 19th century.


Europe had already looked back to antiquity in the Middle Ages, but it was not until the Late Middle Ages that important ancient texts were rediscovered and made accessible. In Renaissance humanism, the ancient state system was studied. Also considered characteristic of the Renaissance were the many inventions and discoveries made at that time, which can be described as the result of a general intellectual awakening (→ Renaissance technology).

In art history, the core period of the Renaissance is considered to be the 15th (Quattrocento) and 16th centuries (Cinquecento). The late Renaissance is also known as Mannerism. The end of the epoch came in the early 17th century in Italy with the emergence of the Baroque style. Outside Italy, Gothic forms continued to dominate for some time; the transitions here are fluid and their assessment depends on whether a narrower stylistic concept of the Renaissance is used or a broader epochal concept. In Protestant Northern Europe, the epochal concept of the Renaissance is overlaid by that of the Reformation.

Renaissance artists include Italians such as Alberti, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo and Titian, and in the German-speaking world Albrecht Dürer and the Danube school. But this era also includes important writers from Dante Alighieri to William Shakespeare. The state philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli is regarded as an analyst and representative of self-confident power politics. Erasmus of Rotterdam, on the other hand, stands for morality and self-reflection. In music, the era is associated above all with increased polyphony and new harmony, for example in the work of Orlande de Lassus.

„When Goethe went to Italy, he did not seek out Roman essence - study what Goethe experienced in Italy; what did he seek? Greek essence in Italy! Everywhere he sought to discern Greek manner through Romanism. Truly, Greek and Christianity were able to grow together in the Renaissance in such a way that posterity can no longer distinguish between Greek and Christianity in the creations of the Renaissance. As I have often told you, it is disputed whether Raphael's famous painting "The School of Athens", as it is called, really depicts Plato and Aristotle in the central figures, or whether it depicts Peter and Paul. There are weighty reasons in favour of one or the other; one or the other has been advocated, so that in one of the most outstanding of the pictures it is impossible to distinguish whether one is dealing with Greek or Christian figures. But it has grown together in such a way that that wonderful marriage which was concluded in Greek spiritual life between the spiritual and the material, that wonderful marriage can be expressed just as much by Plato and Aristotle as by Peter and Paul. In Plato, whom some want to see in the picture called "The School of Athens", we see the old man raising his hand into the heavenly realm, with Aristotle standing beside him with his conceptual world, pointing down to the material world in order to seek the spirit in matter. One can just as well see Peter in the one pointing up, Paul in the one pointing down. But always, during this Renaissance, the matter is rightfully divided between two persons.

In the face of the Renaissance, which was a revival of Greekism, something original must come again. This can only come through synthesis, through the higher synthesis. It is given by the fact that in the same person there will be one gesture as well as the other: the gesture up to the heavenly, the gesture down to the earthly. Then, however, you need the Luciferic and the Ahrimanic, contrasting each other. What you see in one of the greatest works of art of the Renaissance divided into two persons, you must see in our group that is to be created, in the one person of the Representative of Humanity: the one as well as the other gesture!“ (Lit.:GA 171, p. 23f)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.
This article is partly based on the article Renaissance from the free encyclopedia de.wikipedia and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike. Wikipedia has a list of authors available.